Deuteronomy 5 Decalogue

Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue (Greek: δεκάλογος), according to the Hebrew Bible, is a list of religious and moral imperatives that were given by God to the people of Israel from the mountain referred to as Mount Sinai or Horeb. The Bible describes their form as being spoken by God and subsequently as an inscription God wrote with his finger on two stone tablets, which God gave to Moses. The Ten Commandments are recognized as a moral foundation in Judaism and Christianity. The text of the Ten Commandments appears in the Bible as two similar passages of length 14-15 verses: in Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21. These passages are referred to elsewhere in the Bible as the ten devarim (statements), which is the basis for dividing them into ten parts.

The Ten Commandments declare the Lord to be the one true God, prohibit having other gods before him, and making or worshiping idols; threaten punishment for those who reject him and promise love for those who love him; forbid blasphemy of the Lord's name; demand observance of the Sabbath and honoring one's parents; prohibit murder, adultery, theft, false testimony, and coveting of one's neighbor's goods. The scheme for partitioning the passages into ten units varies slightly between religions and denominations, as do their translation, interpretation and significance.


In , the commandments are called עשרת הדברים (transliterated Asereth ha-D'bharîm) and in Rabbinical Hebrew עשרת הדברות (transliterated Asereth ha-Dibroth), both translatable as "the ten words", "the ten sayings" or "the ten matters". The English name "Decalogue" is derived from the Greek translation δεκάλογος dekalogos "ten terms", found in the Septuagint at Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 10:4.

The Revelation at Sinai

According to the Bible, Moses remained 40 days and nights atop Mount Sinai, also called Mount Horeb, receiving God's revelation. Moses then conveyed God's commandments to the Children of Israel in the third month after their Exodus from Egypt. Israel's receipt of the commandments occurred on the third day of preparations at the foot of the mount.

According to Jewish tradition, God's revelation at Mt. Sinai is a critical moment in the confirmation of the covenant between God and the nation of Israel, and one of the high points of Jewish history. Historians are divided as to the location of Mt. Sinai and whether all the tribes that would later constitute David's kingdom were present; some even question whether the revelation actually occurred.

The first revelation

The Ten Commandments were not the only laws revealed to Moses at Sinai. Exodus 21-23 contain a miscellany of laws conventionally called the "Book of the Covenant". These two revelations are not named until Exodus 24, which refers to a "book of the covenant"(Exodus 24:7) and "stone tablets" (Exodus 24:12) as two parts of the revelation.

The second revelation

While Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant, the Children of Israel compelled Aaron to build a calf out of molten gold to serve as an altar for sacrifices to God. Upon seeing this, Moses flung the stone tablets in anger Exodus 32:19; consequently, Moses had to re-ascend Mt. Sinai to receive a new set of tablets from God. This event occasions a recapitulation of the account of God's inscribing two stone tablets Exodus 34:1-4, and conveying the Book of the Covenant Exodus 34:10-28, in a highly condensed form in Exodus 34, what historians call "the Small Covenant Code."

Two texts of the Ten Commandments

The lists known as the Ten Commandments are given in passages in two books of the Bible: Exodus 20:2–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21. These passages are provided in English below, using the New Revised Standard Version translation and formatting. Various religions and denominations group the commandments differently; see the Division of the Commandments section for a detailed accounting.

According to Jewish tradition, Exodus 20:2-17 constitutes God's first recitation and inscription of the Ten Commandments on two tablets, which Moses presented to the Children of Israel who had left Egypt before placing in the Ark of the covenant. Deuteronomy 5:6-20 consists of God's re-telling of the Ten Commandments to the generation born during the wandering in the desert, and after the revelation at Sinai, prior to their entry to the land of Canaan. According to critical historians, each version was written by a different author (or set of authors) at different times during the history of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, or during the Babylonian Exile.

Critical historians' interpretations

Traditional Jewish sources assume that the Torah had a single author and represents a coherent narrative. According to traditional sources, Exodus 20 represents God's first inscription of the ten commandments. Most importantly, an entire corpus of law is revealed to Moses and the Children of Israel at Mt. Sinai and during their wanderings in the desert. Therefore, the Children of Israel already possess this law when all the tribes enter the land of Canaan together, forming a loose tribal alliance, until the formation of a kingdom around 1,000 BCE.

Critical scholars, especially proponents of the higher criticism argue that duplications in the narrative are important evidence of multiple authorship. Critical scholars debate whether all Israelite tribes were enslaved in Egypt, or whether the tribal alliance was formed by tribes of diverse origins. They also propose that the Torah was not redacted into a unified text until the time of the Babylonian exile in 569 BCE. Therefore, different portions of the law entered Israelite culture at different times.

Critical scholars are divided over their interpretation of these texts. The classic form of higher criticism was Julius Wellhausen's documentary hypothesis, first published in 1878. Wellhausen argued that the Torah contains within it three strata of law that were composed at three distinct periods in the history of Israel: a Jahwist/Elohist strata (following the names used for God; the Jahwist is generally associated with the Kingdom of Judah and the Elohist with the Kingdom of Israel) from a time when there were multiple sanctuaries and altars and little distinction between laity and clergy; a Deuteronomist source composed at the court of King Josiah (649-609 BCE), when the authority of the Temple as the sole site for sacrifice was first definitively established; and a Priestly strata composed at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, who led Jews out of the Babylonian Exile mid-fifth century BCE, which reflects the dominance of the Temple and priesthood in the absence of the monarchy. According to this scheme, Exodus 20-23 and 34 were composed by the Jehovist and "might be regarded as the document which formed the starting point of the religious history of Israel." Deuteronomy 5 would then reflect Josiah's attempt to link the document produced by his court to the older Mosaic tradition. In the decades following Wellhausen, many historians sought to refine the documentary hypothesis, for example by identifying different strands of Jahwist or Elohist sources. The argument was always that Israelite religion progressed from less to more ritually complex, and less to more legalistic. Dating a text first required determining how ritualistic or legalistic it was.

Early critical historians also believed that another trend in the history of religion was the progression from a concern with ritual to a concern with ethics. Thus, the early Hebrews were concerned with sacrifice, and later prophets such as Amos and Micah were more concerned with ethics; this trend presaged Jesus's emphasis on love. According to this scheme, Deuteronomy 5 does not represent Josiah's ettempt to identify himself with the Mosaic tradition; rather, Exodus 20: 2-17 are an interpelation of the Deuteronomic decalogue into the Jawhist narrative. The argument is that this form of the Ten Commandments, which emphasize ethical principals, can only be a late development in the history of Israelite religion. These scholars proposed that Exodus 34: 10-28 represent the original ten commandments believed to be revealed to Moses at Mt. Sinai and of very early origin, because of their emphasis on ritual.

In a recent analysis of this history of this position, Dr. Bernard Levinson has argued that this reconstruction assumes a Christian perspective, and dates back to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's polemic against Judaism. Goethe claimed that Christianity is more advanced than Judaism because Christianity is a more ethical religion. He believed that religions evolve from the more ritualistic to the more ethical, and that one could find evidence of this evolution in the history of Israelite religion (just as Christianity evolved from the ritualistic Catholic form to the more purely ethical Protestant form). Goethe thus argued that the ten commandments revelaed to Moses at Mt. Sinai would have emphasized rituals, and that the "ethical" decalogue Christians recite in their own churches was composed at a later date, when Israelite prophets had begun to prophecize the coming of the messiah, Jesus Christ. Dr. Levinson points out that there is no evidence, internal to the Hebrew Bible or in external sources, to support this conjecture. He concludes that its vogue among later critical historians represents the persistance of this polemic that the supercession of Judaism by Christianity is part of a longer history of progress from the ritualistic to the ethical.

By the 1930s, however, historians who accepted the basic premises of multiple authorship had come to reject the idea of an orderly evolution of Israelite religion. Critics instead began to suppose that law and ritual could be of equal importance, while taking different form, at different times. This means that there is no longer any a priori reason to believe that Exodus 20: 2-17 and Exodus 34: 10-28 were composed during different stages of Israelite history. For example, critical historian John Bright also dates the Jahwist texts to the tenth century BCE, but believes that they express a theology that "had already been normalized in the period of the Judges" (i.e. of the tribal alliance). He concurs about the importance of the decalogue as "a central element in the covenant that brought together Israel into being as a people" but views the parallels between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, along with other evidence, as reason to believe that it is relatively close to its original form and Mosaic in origin.

According to Bright, however, there is an important distinction between the Decalogue and the "Book of the Covenant" (Exodus 21-23 and 34:10-24). The Decalogue, he argues, was modeled on the suzerainty treaties of the Hittites (and other Mesopotamian Empires), that is, represents the relationship between God and Israel as a relationship between king and vassal, and enacts that bond. Viewed as a treaty rather than a law code, its purpose is not so much to regulate human affairs as to define the scope of the king's power. Julius Morgenstern argued that Exodus 34 is distinct from the Jahwist document, identifying it with king Asa's reforms in 899 BCE.". Bright, however, believes that like the Decalogue this text has its origins in the time of the tribal alliance. The Book of the Covenant, he notes, bears a greater similarity to Mesopotamian law codes (e.g. the Code of Hamurabi). He argues that the function of this "book" is to move from the realm of treaty to the realm of law: "The Book of the Covenant (Ex., chs. 21 to 23; cf. ch. 34), which is no official state law, but a description of normative Israelite judicial procedure in the days of the Judges, is the best example of this process." According to Bright, then, this body of law too predates the monarchy.

According to critical scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann, the Decalogue and the Book of the Covenant represent two ways of manifesting God's presence in Israel: the Ten Commandments taking the archaic and material form of stone tablets kept in the ark of the covenant, while the book of the covenant took oral form to be recited to the people (Kaufmann dates the book of the covenant to the time of Josiah). (Exodus 25-31 describe the plans for the construction of the ark of the covenant, a tabernacle in which the ark will be sheltered, an altar, and the establishment of a priesthood to supervise sacrifices.)

Division according to different religions

The passage in Exodus 20 contains more than ten imperative statements, totalling 14 or 15 in all. While the Bible itself assigns the count of "10", using the Hebrew phrase aseret had'varim ('the 10 words', 'statements' or 'things'), this phrase does not appear in Exodus 20. Various religions parse the commandments differently. The table below highlights those differences:


*The "Talmudic Division" is the breakdown held by modern Judaism, and dates to at least the Third Century. The "Philonic Division", which dates to the first century, is found in the writings of Philo and Josephus. They ended the first commandment after verse 3 and list the second commandment as verses 4-6, similar to most Protestants (non-Lutheran) and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
**Some Lutheran churches use a slightly different division of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments (9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house; 10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his workers, or his cattle, or anything that is your neighbor’s).
The Catholic Church uses the translation 'kill'.
††Sources within Judaism assert that this is a reference to kidnapping, whereas Leviticus 19:11 is the Biblical reference banning the stealing of property. This understanding is based on the Talmudical hermeneutic known as דבר הלמד מעניינו/davar ha-lamed me-inyano (literally 'something proved by the context'), by which this must refer to a capital offense just as the previous two commandments refer to capital offenses.
More recent scholarship suggests that "take" may be better for chamad than "covet."

Religious interpretations


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The Two Tablets

The arrangement of the commandments on the two tablets is interpreted in different ways in the classical Jewish tradition. Rabbi Hanina ben Gamaliel says that each tablet contained five commandments, "but the Sages say ten on one tablet and ten on the other". Because the commandments establish a covenant, it is likely that they were duplicated on both tablets. This can be compared to diplomatic treaties of Ancient Egypt, in which a copy was made for each party.

According to the Talmud, the compendium of traditional Rabbinic Jewish law, tradition, and interpretation, the Biblical verse "the tablets were written on both their sides", implies that the carving went through the full thickness of the tablets. The stones in the center part of some letters were not connected to the rest of the tablet, but they did not fall out. Moreover, the writing was also legible from both sides; it was not a mirror image of the text on the other side. The Talmud regards both phenomena as miraculous.

Traditional division and interpretation

According to the Medieval Sefer ha-Chinuch, the first four statements concern the relationship between God and humans, while the next six statements concern the relationships between people. Rabbinic literature holds that the Ten Statements in fact contain 14 or 15 distinct instructions; see listing under Yitro (parsha).

  1. "I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me..."
    This commandment is to be aware that the God of Israel exists absolutely and influences all events in the world and that the goal of the redemption from Egypt was to become His servants ( Rashi). It requires the acknowledgment of the single God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob above any additional deities. (The strict monotheism of Judaism was not introduced until after the Mosaic era).
  2. "Do not make an image or any likeness of what is in the heavens above..."
    This prohibits the construction or fashioning of "idols" in the likeness of created things (beasts, fish, birds, people) and worshipping them ( aniconism). It also prohibits making an image of the God of Israel for use in worship (see the incident of the golden calf).
  3. "Do not swear falsely by the name of the LORD..."
    This is a prohibition against making false oaths in the name of the God of Israel, specifically those which are pointless, insincere or never carried out.
  4. "Remember [zachor] the Sabbath day and keep it holy" (the version in Deuteronomy reads shamor, "observe")
    The seventh day of the week is termed Shabbat and is holy, just as God ceased creative activity during Creation. The aspect of zachor is performed by declaring the greatness of the day ( kiddush), by having three festive meals, and by engaging in Torah study and pleasurable activities. The aspect of shamor is performed by abstaining from productive activity ( 39 melachot) on the Shabbath.
  5. "Honor your father and your mother..."
    The obligation to honor one's parents is an obligation that one owes to God and fulfills this obligation through one's actions towards one's parents.
  6. "Do not murder"
    Murdering a human being is a capital sin.
  7. "Do not commit adultery."
    Adultery is defined as sexual intercourse between a man and a married woman who is not his wife.
  8. "Do not steal."
    According to the Talmud, this commandment refers to kidnapping and not to theft of material property, as theft of property is forbidden elsewhere, and it is not a capital offense. In this context it is to be taken as "do not kidnap."
  9. "Do not bear false witness against your neighbor"
    One must not bring a false testimony in a court of law or other proceeding.
  10. "Do not covet your neighbor's wife"
    One is forbidden to desire and plan how one may obtain that which God has given to another. Maimonides makes a distinction in codifying the laws between the instruction given here in Exodus ( You shall not covet) and that given in Deuteronomy ( You shall not desire), according to which one does not violate the Exodus commandment unless there is a physical action associated with the desire, even if this is legally purchasing an envied object.

Significance of the Decalogue

The Ten Commandments are not given any greater significance in observance or special status. In fact, when undue emphasis was being placed on them, their daily communal recitation was discontinued. Jewish tradition does, however, recognize them as the theological basis for the rest of the commandments; a number of works (starting with Rabbi Saadia Gaon) have made groupings of the commandments according to their links with the Ten Commandments.

The traditional Rabbinical Jewish belief is that the observance of these commandments and the other mitzvot are required solely of the Jewish people, and that the laws incumbent on humanity in general are outlined in the seven Noahide Laws (several of which overlap with the Ten Commandments). In the era of the Sanhedrin transgressing any one of six of the Ten Commandments theoretically carried the death penalty, the exceptions being the First Commandment, honoring your father and mother, saying God's name in vain, and coveting, though this was rarely enforced due to a large number of stringent evidentiary requirements imposed by the oral law.

Use in Jewish ritual

The Mishnah records that it was the practice, in the Temple, to recite the Ten Commandments every day before the reading of the Shema (as preserved, for example, in the Nash Papyrus from c. 150 BCE); but that this practice was abolished in the synagogues so as not to give ammunition to heretics who claimed that they were the only important part of Jewish law.

In the normal course of the reading of the Torah, the Ten Commandments are read twice a year: the Exodus version in parashat Yitro around late January–February, and the Deuteronomy version in parashat Va'etchanan in August–September. In addition, the Exodus version constitutes the main Torah reading for the festival of Shavuot. It is widespread custom for the congregation to stand while they are being read.

In printed Bibles the Ten Commandments carry two sets of cantillation marks. The ta'am 'elyon (upper accentuation), which makes each Commandment into a separate verse, is used for public Torah reading, while the ta'am tachton (lower accentuation), which divides the text into verses of more even length, is used for private reading or study. The verse numbering in Christian Bibles follows the ta'am elyon while that in Jewish Bibles follows the ta'am tachton. In Jewish Bibles the references to the Ten Commandments are therefore Exodus 20:2–14 and Deuteronomy 5:6–18.


The Samaritan Pentateuch varies in the ten commandments passages, both in that the Samaritan Deuteronomical version of the passage is much closer to that in Exodus, and in the addition of a commandment on the sanctity of Mount Gerizim.

The text of the commandment follows:

And it shall come to pass when the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land of the Canaanites whither thou goest to take possession of it, thou shalt erect unto thee large stones, and thou shalt cover them with lime, and thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this Law, and it shall come to pass when ye cross the Jordan, ye shall erect these stones which I command thee upon Mount Gerizim, and thou shalt build there an altar unto the Lord thy God, an altar of stones, and thou shalt not lift upon them iron, of perfect stones shalt thou build thine altar, and thou shalt bring upon it burnt offerings to the Lord thy God, and thou shalt sacrifice peace offerings, and thou shalt eat there and rejoice before the Lord thy God. That mountain is on the other side of the Jordan at the end of the road towards the going down of the sun in the land of the Canaanites who dwell in the Arabah facing Gilgal close by Elon Moreh facing Shechem.


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Reference by Jesus

In the New Testament, Jesus repeated some of the commandments in Matthew 19:16–19.

Catholic and Lutheran Christianity

The Lutheran (Protestant) and Catholic division of the commandments both follow the one established by St. Augustine, following the then current synagogue scribal division. The first three commandments govern the relationship between God and humans, the fourth through eighth govern public relationships between people, and the last two govern private thoughts. For additional information on the Catholic understanding of the Ten Commandments, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), sections 2052–2557. References to the Catechism are provided below for each commandment as well as the interpretation used by Lutherans and Catholics. The following text is from Deuteronomy 5:6–5:21 New Revised Standard Version

  1. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments."
    Catholic teaching distinguishes between dulia—paying honor, respect and veneration to saints and also indirectly to God through contemplation of objects such as paintings and statues—and latria— adoration directed to God alone. (See Catechism 2084–2141).
  2. "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name."
    This commandment prohibits not just swearing but also the misappropriation of religious language in order to commit a crime, participating in occult practices, and blaspheming against places or people that are holy to God. (See Catechism 2142–2167).
  3. "Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day."
    The Catechism states that the "first day" of the week, or Sunday, has replaced the Jewish Sabbath—the completion of creation—as the Lord's day because it "recalls the new creation inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ." The Catholic Church teaches that Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on Sunday and to avoid any unnecessary work that distracts from keeping the Lord's day. (see Catechism 2168-2195).
  4. "Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you."
    This commandment emphasizes the family as part of God's design, as well as an extended metaphor that God uses for his relationship with his creation. (See Catechism 2197–2257.)
  5. (Roman Catholic - New American Bible) "You shall not kill" / (Lutheran - New International Version) "You shall not murder"
    "Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, nonlethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent." (See Catechism 2267). Catholics (along with many Lutherans) also consider abortion sinful and a violation of this commandment. War, if rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy are met (that is, the "use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated"), is not a violation because "governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed." (See Catechism 2258–2330).
  6. "Neither shall you commit adultery."
    Adultery is the breaking of the holy bond between husband and wife, and is thus a sacrilege. This commandment includes not just the act of adultery, but lust as well. (See Catechism 2331–2400).
  7. "Neither shall you steal."
    (See Catechism 2401–2463).
  8. "Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor."
    This commandment forbids misrepresenting the truth in relations with others. This also forbids lying. (See Catechism 2464–2513).
  9. "Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife."
    (See Catechism 2514–2533).
  10. "Neither shall you desire your neighbor's house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
    (See Catechism 2534–2557).

For additional information on the Lutheran understanding of the Ten Commandments, see the Luther's Small Catechism (1529) and Luther's Large Catechism (1529).

The Commandments are seen as general "subject headings" for moral theology, in addition to being specific commandments in themselves. Thus, the commandment to honor father and mother is seen as a heading for a general rule to respect legitimate authority, including the authority of the state. The commandment not to commit adultery is traditionally taken to be a heading for a general rule to be sexually pure, the specific content of the purity depending, of course, on whether one is married or not. In this way, the Ten Commandments can be seen as dividing up all of morality. They are also to be seen as the most fundamental of guidance on how to achieve progress in meditation or prayer—the obvious example being that it would be difficult to consider a rising spirit when the heart was planning murder.

Protestant Christianity

There are many different denominations of Protestantism, and it is impossible to generalize in a way that covers them all. However, this diversity arose historically from fewer sources, the various teachings of which can be summarized in general terms.

Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, and Anabaptists all taught, and their descendants still predominantly teach, that the Ten Commandments have both an explicitly negative content, and an implied positive content. Besides those things that ought not to be done, there are things which ought not to be left undone. So that, besides not transgressing the prohibitions, a faithful abiding by the commands of God includes keeping the obligations of love. The ethic contained in the Ten Commandments, and indeed in all of Scripture is, "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself", and, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Lutherans theorize that there is an antithesis between these two sides of the Word of God, the positive and the negative. Love and gratitude are guides to those under the Gospel, and the prohibitions are for unbelievers and profane people. This antithesis between Law and Gospel runs through every ethical command, according to Lutheran understanding.

The Anabaptists have held that the commandments of God are the content of the covenant established through Christ: faith is faithfulness, and thus, belief is essentially the same thing as obedience.

Reformed and Anglicans have taught the abiding validity of the commandments, and call it a summation of the "moral law", binding on all people. However, they emphasize the union of the believer with Christ - so that the will and power to perform the commandments does not arise from the commandment itself, but from the gift of the Holy Spirit. Apart from this grace, the commandment is only productive of condemnation, according to this family of doctrine.

Modern Evangelicalism, under the influence of dispensationalism, commonly denies that the commandments have any abiding validity as a requirement binding upon Christians; however, they contain principles which are beneficial to the believer. Dispensationalism is particularly emphatic about the dangers of legalism, and thus, in a distinctive way de-emphasizes the teaching of the law (see also antinomianism). Somewhat analogously, Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement typically emphasizes the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the freedom of the Christian from outward commandments, sometimes in antithesis to the letter of the Law. Quakers and Pietists have historically set themselves against the Law as a form of commandment binding on Christians, and have emphasized the inner guidance and liberty of the believer, so that the law is fulfilled not merely by avoiding what the Law prohibits, but by carrying out what the Spirit of God urges upon their conscience. New Covenant Theology promotes the view that the commandments have been abrogated.

Typical Protestant view

For those Christians who believe that the Ten Commandments continue to be binding for Christians (see also Old Testament—Christian view of the Law), their negative and positive content can be summarized as follows.

Exodus 20:

Preface: vs 1–2
Implies the obligation to keep all of the commandments of God, in gratitude because of the abundance of his mercy.
Forbids ingratitude to God and denial that he is our God.
  1. vs 3
    Enjoins that God must be known and acknowledged to be the only true God, and our God; and, to worship him and to make him known as he has been made known to us.
    Forbids not worshiping and glorifying the true God as God, and as our God; and forbids giving worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.
  2. vs 4–6
    Requires receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God has appointed; and zeal in resisting those who would corrupt worship; because of God's ownership of us, and interest in our salvation.
    Prohibits the worshiping of God by images, or by confusion of any creature with God, or any other way not appointed in his Word. (According to the traditional presbyterian and reformed view, this commandment also prohibits any man-made inventions to worship, which formed a basis for their criticism of Roman Catholic liturgies.)
  3. vs 7
    Enjoins a holy and a reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works.
    Forbids all abuse of anything by which God makes Himself known. Some Protestants, especially in the tradition of pacifism, read this Commandment as forbidding any and all oaths, including judicial oaths and oaths of allegiance to a government, noting that human weakness cannot foretell whether such oaths will in fact be vain.
  4. vs 8–11
    Requires setting apart to God such set times as are appointed in his Word. Many Protestants are increasingly concerned that the values of the marketplace do not dominate entirely, and deprive people of leisure and energy needed for worship, for the creation of civilized culture. The setting of time apart from and free from the demands of commerce is one of the foundations of a decent human society. See Sabbath.
    Forbids the omission, or careless performance, of the religious duties, using the day for idleness, or for doing that which is in itself sinful; and prohibits requiring of others any such omission, or transgression, on the designated day.
  5. vs 12
    The only commandment with explicitly positive content, rather than a prohibition; it connects all of the temporal blessings of God, with reverence for and obedience to authority, and especially for father and mother.
    Forbids doing anything against, or failing to give, the honor and duty which belongs to anyone, whether because they possess authority or because they are subject to authority.
  6. vs 13
    King James Version, American Revised Standard, and other Bibles state, "Thou shall not kill". Requires all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life and the life of others.
    Forbids taking away of our own life (See Christian views on suicide), or the life of our neighbor, unjustly (Just taking of life includes self-defense (but see turning the other cheek), executions (see Capital punishment) and times of war (see Just war); and, anything that tends toward depriving life. By extension it condemns even verbal abuse and anger, as in Christ's Sermon on the Mount.
  7. vs 14
    Enjoins protection of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.
    Forbids all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions.
  8. vs 15
    Requires a defense of all lawful things that further the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.
    Prohibits whatever deprives our neighbor, or ourselves, of lawfully gained wealth or outward estate.
  9. vs 16
    Requires the maintaining and promoting of truth between people, and of our neighbor’s good name and our own, especially in witness-bearing.
    Forbids whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own, or our neighbor’s, good name.
  10. vs 17
    Enjoins contentment with our own condition, and a charitable attitude toward our neighbor and all that is his, being thankful for his sake that he has whatever is beneficial to him, as we are for those things that benefit us.
    Forbids discontent or envy, prohibits any grief over the betterment of our neighbor's estate, and all inordinate desires to obtain for ourselves, or scheming to wrest for our benefit, anything that is his.


In Islam, Moses (Musa) is venerated as one of the greatest prophets of God. However, Islam also teaches that the texts of the Torah and the Gospels have been corrupted from their divine originals over the years, due to carelessness and self-interest. Despite this purported corruption, messages from the Torah and the Gospels still coincide closely with certain verses in the Qur'an. This is by-and-large the case with the Ten Commandments. Consequently, despite the Ten Commandments not being explicitly mentioned in the Qur'an they are substantially similar to the following verses in the Qur'an (using Jewish numbering of the Commandments):

  1. "There is no other god beside Allah." (Qur'an 47:19)
  2. "My Lord, make this a peaceful land, and protect me and my children from worshiping idols." (Qur'an 14:35)
  3. "And make not Allah's (name) an excuse in your oaths against doing good, or acting rightly, or making peace between persons; for Allah is One Who heareth and knoweth all things." (Qur'an 2:224) This quranic verse is not entirely analogous to the Old Testament's "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God..." Verse 2:224 is explained by the Prophet Muhammad as: "If anyone takes a solemn oath [that he would do or refrain from doing such-and such a thing], and thereupon realizes that something else would be a more righteous course, then let him do that which is more righteous, and let him break his oath and then atone for it" (Bukhari and Muslim; and other variants of the same Tradition in other compilations).
  4. "O you who believe, when the Congregational Prayer (Salat Al-Jumu`ah) is announced on Friday, you shall hasten to the commemoration of GOD, and drop all business." (Qur'an 62:9) According to the teachings of Islam, the Sabbath was abrogated by the revelation for Muhammed. Furthermore, the Sabbath was only decreed for the Jews. (Qur'an 16:124) God, however, ordered Muslims to make every effort to drop all business to attend the congregational (Friday) prayer. Believers are permitted to go about their affairs during the rest of the day.
  5. "....and your parents shall be honoured. As long as one or both of them live, you shall never (even) say to them, "Uff" (the slightest gesture of annoyance), nor shall you shout at them; you shall treat them amicably." (Qur'an 17:23)
  6. "....anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people." (Qur'an 5:32)
  7. "You shall not commit adultery; it is a gross sin, and an evil behaviour." (Qur'an 17:32)
  8. "They shall not steal." (Al-Mumtahanah 60: 12) and "The thief, male or female, you shall cut off their hands as a punishment for their crime, and to serve as an example from God. God is Almighty, Most Wise." (Qur'an 5:38)
  9. "Do not withhold any testimony by concealing what you had witnessed. Anyone who withholds a testimony is sinful at heart." (Qur'an 2:283)
  10. "And do not covet what we bestowed upon any other people. Such are temporary ornaments of this life, whereby we put them to the test. What your Lord provides for you is far better, and everlasting." (Qur'an 20:131)

In the 17th chapter, "Al-Israa" ("The Night Journey"), verses , the Qur'an provides a set of moral stipulations which are "among the (precepts of) wisdom, which thy Lord has revealed to thee" that can be reasonably categorised as ten in number. According to S. A. Nigosian, Professor of religious studies at the University of Toronto, these resemble the Ten Commandments in the Bible and "represents the fullest statement of the code of behavior every Muslim must follow". However, these verses are not regarded by Islamic scholars as set apart from any other moral stipulations in the Qur'an, nor are they regarded as a substitute, replacement, or abrogation of some other set of commandments as found in the previous revelations.

  1. Worship only God: Take not with Allah another object of worship; or thou (O man!) wilt sit in disgrace and destitution. (17:22)
  2. Be kind, honourable and humble to one's parents: Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. (17:23) And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: "My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood." (17:24)
  3. Be neither miserly nor wasteful in one's expenditure: And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. (17:26) Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful. (17:27) And even if thou hast to turn away from them in pursuit of the Mercy from thy Lord which thou dost expect, yet speak to them a word of easy kindness. (17:28) Make not thy hand tied (like a niggard's) to thy neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach, so that thou become blameworthy and destitute. (17:29)
  4. Do not engage in 'mercy killings' for fear of starvation: Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin. (17:31)
  5. Do not commit adultery: Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils). (17:32)
  6. Do not kill unjustly: Nor take life - which Allah has made sacred - except for just cause. And if anyone is slain wrongfully, we have given his heir authority (to demand qisas or to forgive): but let him not exceed bounds in the matter of taking life; for he is helped (by the Law). (17:33)
  7. Care for orphaned children: Come not nigh to the orphan's property except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength...(17:34)
  8. Keep one's promises: ...fulfill (every) engagement [i.e. promise/covenant], for (every) engagement will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). (17:34)
  9. Be honest and fair in one's interactions: Give full measure when ye measure, and weigh with a balance that is straight: that is the most fitting and the most advantageous in the final determination. (17:35)
  10. Do not be arrogant in one's claims or beliefs: And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning). (17:36) Nor walk on the earth with insolence: for thou canst not rend the earth asunder, nor reach the mountains in height. (17:37)


Sabbath day

The majority of Christians keep Sunday as a day of worship and rest, every week commemorating the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week on the Jewish calendar. Most Christian traditions teach that there is an analogy between the obligation of the Christian day of worship and the Sabbath-day ordinance, but that they are not literally identical—for a believer in Christ the Sabbath ordinance has not so much been removed as superseded, because God's very work of creation has been superseded by a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17), but this belief cannot be directly substantiated by Scripture. For this reason, some believe that the obligation to keep the Sabbath is not the same for Christians as in Judaism, and for support they point to examples in the New Testament, and other writings surviving from the first few centuries. Some conservative Christians, most of them within the Reformed tradition, are "Sabbatarians," believing the first day of the week or Lord's Day to be the new covenant Sabbath.

Still others believe that the Sabbath remains as a day of rest on Saturday, reserving Sunday as a day of worship. In reference to Acts 20:7, they believe that the disciples came together on the first day of the week (Sunday) to break bread and to hear the preaching of the apostle Paul. Many Christians use this text as a defense for Sunday sacredness. Those who believe Sabbath should be on Saturday point out that as a Jewish day begins at sunset, the first day of the week begins on Saturday evening, the disciples gathered after the Sabbath to break bread, the meeting continued all night and then Paul left on Sunday morning to continue his travels.

The Seventh-day Adventists, Seventh-Day Baptists, True Jesus Church, United Church of God, Living Church of God and some other churches disagree with some of these views. They argue that the custom of meeting for worship on Sunday originated in paganism, specifically Sol Invictus and Mithraism (in which sun-god worship took place on Sunday) and constitutes an explicit rejection of the commandment to keep the seventh day holy. Instead, they keep Saturday (sunset to sunset) as the Sabbath as a memorial to God's work of creation (Genesis 2:1–3, Exodus 20:8–11, Exodus 16:23,29–30) believing that none of the ten commandments can ever be destroyed (Matthew 5:17–19, Exodus 31:16). Seventh-day sabbatarians point to the fact that the seventh day Sabbath was kept by the majority of Christian groups until the 2nd and 3rd century, by most until the 4th and 5th century, and a few thereafter, but because of opposition to Judaism after the Jewish-Roman wars, the original custom was gradually replaced by Sunday as the day of worship. The history of these changes is certainly not altogether lost regardless of any belief in a suppression of the facts by a conspiracy of the pagans of the Roman Empire and the clergy of the Catholic Church. See Great Apostasy.

Jews had come to be loathed in the Roman Empire after the Jewish-Roman wars, and this led to the criminalization of the Jewish Sabbath. Hatred, or at least repudiation, of Jews is apparent in the Council of Laodicea (4th Century AD) where Canon 37–38 states: "It is not lawful to receive portions sent from the feasts of Jews or heretics, nor to feast together with them" and "It is not lawful to receive unleavened bread from the Jews, nor to be partakers of their impiety". In keeping with this rejection of the Jews, this Roman council also criminalized the Jewish Sabbath as can be seen in Canon 29 of the Council Laodicea: "Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord's Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema (excommunicated) from Christ."

Killing or murder

Multiple translations exist of the fifth/sixth commandment; the Hebrew words לא תרצח are variously translated as "thou shalt not kill" or "thou shalt not murder". Older Protestant translations of the Bible, those based on the Vulgate and Roman Catholic translations usually render it as "Thou shalt not kill," whereas Jewish and newer Protestant versions tend to use "You shall not murder." There is controversy as to which translation is more faithful, and both forms are quoted in support of many opposing ethical standpoints.

The Vulgate (Latin) translation has Non occides, i.e. "Thou shalt not kill." English translations using "kill" include the King James (Authorised) (1611) [although note Matthew 19:18 "do no murder," following the Vulgate non homicidium facies], the American Standard (1901) and Revised Standard (American Protestant, 1952) Versions. Almost all Roman Catholic translations, including the Douay-Rheims Bible (1609/1752), the New American Bible (1970), the New Jerusalem Bible (1985) and the Christian Community Bible (1986), have "kill." Martin Luther (German, 1534) also uses töten (kill).

Protestant translations using "murder" include the Book of Common Prayer (English, 1549 and revisions), New International Version (American, 1978), New American Standard Bible (American, 1971), New English Bible (British Protestant, 1970), and the New King James (American, 1982), New Revised Standard (American, 1989) and English Standard (American Protestant, 2001) Versions. Jewish translations almost all use "murder," including the Jewish Publication Society of America Version (1917), the Judaica Press tanach (1963) and the Living Torah (1981). A Jewish exception to this pattern is the Artscroll or Stone Edition tanach (1996).

The Old Testament's examples of killings sanctioned by God are often cited in defense of the view that "murder" is a more accurate translation. Additionally, Hebrew has other words for "kill," including הרג (harag) and המית (heimit), while רצח (ratzach), which is found in the Ten Commandments לא תרצח (lo tirtzach), was more specific. Joel M. Hoffman concludes that "kill" is too broad but "murder" is too narrow to reflect tirtsah.

You shall not steal

Significant voices of academic theologians (such as German Old Testament scholar Albrecht Alt: Das Verbot des Diebstahls im Dekalog (1953)) suggest that commandment "you shall not steal" was originally intended against stealing people—against abductions and slavery, in agreement with the Talmudic interpretation of the statement as "you shall not kidnap" (Sanhedrin 86a).


Christianity holds that the essential element of the commandment not to make "any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above" is "and bow down and worship it". Roman Catholicism specifically holds that one may build and use "likenesses", as long as the object is not worshipped. As a result, many Roman Catholic Churches and services feature images, some feature statues, and in some Orthodox services, icons are venerated. For most Roman Catholics, this practice is understood as fulfilling the observance of this commandment, as they understand these images are not being worshipped.

Eastern Orthodoxy traditionally teaches that while images of God, the Father, remain prohibited, depictions of Jesus as the incarnation of God as a visible human are permissible. To emphasize the theological importance of the incarnation, the Orthodox Church encourages the use of icons in church and private devotions, but generally prefers a non-naturalistic, two-dimensional depiction as a reminder of this theological aspect. In modern use (usually as a result of Roman Catholic influence), more naturalistic images and images of the Father, however, also appear occasionally in Orthodox churches, but statues, i.e. three-dimensional depictions, continue to be banned.

For Jews and Muslims, veneration violates this commandment. Jews and Muslims read this commandment as prohibiting the use of idols and images in any way.

Some Protestants will picture Jesus in his human form, while refusing to make any image of God or Jesus in Heaven.

The Orthodox have criticized the Roman Catholic use of decorative statues, Roman Catholics have criticized the Orthodox veneration of icons, and some Protestant groups have criticized the use of stained-glass windows by many other denominations. Jehovah's Witnesses criticize the use of all of the above, as well as the use of the cross. Amish people forbid any sort of graven image, such as photographs.

Public debates in the United States

There is an ongoing dispute in the United States concerning the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property. Certain conservative religious groups have taken the banning of officially sanctioned prayer from public schools by the U.S. Supreme Court as a threat to the expression of religion in public life. In response, they have successfully lobbied many state and local governments to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Posting the Decalogue on a public building can take a sectarian stance, if numbered. Protestants and Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Jews number the commandments differently. However, this problem can be circumnavigated by simply not numbering the commandments, as was done at the Texas capitol (shown here). Hundreds of these monuments—including some of those causing dispute—were originally placed by director Cecil B. DeMille as a publicity stunt to promote his 1956 film The Ten Commandments.

Others oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments on public property, arguing that it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

In contrast, groups supporting the public display of the Ten Commandments claim that the commandments are not necessarily religious but represent the moral and legal foundation of society, and are appropriate to be displayed as a historical source of present day legal codes. Also, some argue that prohibiting the public practice of religion is a violation of the first amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion.

US legislators counter The Ten Commandments are derived from Judeo-Christian religions. The statement "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" excludes Hinduism and Zoroastrianism for example, which are not Judeo-Christian, monotheistic religions. Whether the constitution prohibits the posting of the commandments or not, there are additional political and civil rights issues regarding the posting of what is construed as religious doctrine. Excluding religions that have not accepted The Ten Commandments creates the appearance of impropriety. The perception that a US state church has been established is viewed as repugnant, the impression being that the intent of the establishment clause regarding freedom of religion is undermined.

In addition, it has been argued if the Commandments are posted, it would require that members of other religions be allowed to post the particular tenets of their religions as well. For example, an organization by the name of Summum has won court cases against municipalities in Utah for refusing to allow the group to erect a monument of Summum aphorisms next to the Ten Commandments. The cases were won on the grounds that Summum's right to freedom of speech was denied and the governments had engaged in discrimination. Instead of allowing Summum to erect its monument, the local governments chose to remove their Ten Commandments.

This incident reveals there is reason not to post religious doctrine on government property; it is unlikely that a believer in the commandments would appreciate having a shrine to another religion placed next to them, and taken to its logical outcome (as shown by the Summum incident), it is clear that permitting religious speech through the mouthpiece of the state is impractical, given the reality of the diversity of religious belief and non-belief in the United States. The state ought to be neutral as to subject of religion, allow citizens to find their own faiths, so as not to endorse or present any particular beliefs, advocates believe. Others argue that this can amount to State imposition of a minority belief of secularism and moral relativity, rather than the State reflecting the will of a majority, emphasizing the impossibility of the State so fully separating itself from any belief system.

Some religious Jews oppose the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools, as they feel it is wrong for public schools to teach their children Judaism. The argument is that if a Jewish parent wishes to teach their child to be a Jew, then this education should come only from practicing Jews. This position is based on the demographic fact that the vast majority of public school teachers in the United States are not Jews; the same is true for the students. This same reasoning and position is also held by many believers in other religions. Many Christians have some concerns about this as well; for example, can Catholic parents count on Protestant or Orthodox Christian teachers to tell their children their particular understanding of the commandments? Differences in the interpretation and translation of these commandments, as noted above, can sometimes be significant.

Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have launched lawsuits challenging the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Opponents of these displays include a number of religious groups, including some Christian denominations, both because they don't want government to be issuing religious doctrine, and because they feel strongly that the commandments are inherently religious. Many commentators see this issue as part of a wider culture war between liberal and conservative elements in American society. In response to the perceived attacks on traditional society, other legal organizations, such as the Liberty Counsel, have risen to advocate the conservative interpretation.

The Ritual Decalogue

Some proponents of the Documentary hypothesis have argued that the Biblical text in Exodus 34:28 identifies a different list as the Ten Commandments, that of Exodus 34:11–27. Since this passage does not prohibit murder, adultery, theft, etc., but instead deals with the proper worship of Yahweh, some scholars call it the "Ritual Decalogue", and disambiguate the Ten Commandments of traditional understanding as the "Ethical Decalogue".

Cultural references

The phrase "Ten Commandments" is highly familiar in Western culture and is often extended to any immutable code of conduct.

Two famous films of this name were directed by Cecil B. DeMille, a silent movie released in 1923, and another movie in 1956, starring Charlton Heston as Moses. The Decalogue, a 1988 Polish film, and The Ten, a 2007 American film, use the Ten Commandments as a structure for 10 smaller stories.

The form and content of the Decalogue have often been parodied and satirized including Arthur Hugh Clough's poem The Latest Decalogue, Mel Brooks's film History of the World, Part I and George Carlin's stand-up.

See also


Further reading

External links

Retrieved from : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments